op Levi may not be a bona fide rock star (not yet, anyway) but he certainly looks the part. He assumes the natural position, front and center, exuding a playful aura of mystery, staring with his dark doe eyes and flaunting his tousled bowl cut—a mustachioed enigma from another time. And that’s just the album cover.
The former Ladytron bassist and Liverpudlian is the perfect amalgam of myth, spirituality, and raw animalism. He’s clearly studied his glam hero predecessors, and although his lurid whine channels Marc Bolan and he sounds like a rough composite of Prince, Bowie, and Dylan, he doesn’t quite belong anywhere.
Return to Form Black Majick Party contains multitudes—it’s blues, it’s funk, it’s pop, it’s dance. But he puts his own warped spin on psychedelic glitter soul by burnishing it with thickly layered electro buzzings and lead-heavy riffs. The sound defies glib categorization and yet is clearly defined through its classic origins. Here’s a man of calculated contradictions: a retro act and a vanguard pioneer, a pop troubadour and a filthy rocker. It’s hard to not be intrigued by the self-made paradox.
The album launches into pleasant cacophony with the clap-happy distortion of “Sugar Assault Me Now,” a libidinous number that adheres to the glam rock formula of juxtaposing straight-up pop sensibility with raunchy guitar pyrotechnics. Single “Blue Honey” is an Eastern-tinged blues-rock journey that follows its hypnotic bass groove to mystical outposts. Yes, it’s irrefutable that both songs, among others, evoke musical iconography, but the icons exist as one blurry, amorphous mass. The fuzzed-out guitars of “(A Style Called) Cryin’ Chic” pay homage to Donovan’s acid pop, and “Skip Ghetto”’s wistful languor could pass for a lost Electric Warrior track, but ultimately this is Pop Levi’s world. It’s a realm he’s (re)constructed: breezy, euphoric, brimming with far-out ephemera. On Return to Form, Levi creates a dream that seems eerily familiar, a hallucinogenic form of déjà vu.
Levi’s magic lies in the studio. He approaches his melodic arrangements with precision, more a scientist than the alchemist persona he readily employs. The album pays obeisance to the tools of production: from the trippy sonic interludes that unify the tracks to the slick electronic sheen that polishes the album’s faux irregularities.
He also has an impeccable ear for a hook and packs his album full of them. Of course, he doesn’t want us to gorge, so he spreads them out, teasing us with his repetitive verses. The campy innuendo of “Pick Me Up Uppercut” is redundant, but it’s catchy, and Levi knows how to heighten our desires before delivering the visceral punch of a memorable chorus.
It would be easy to quickly dismiss Pop Levi as some fashionable charlatan if only he didn’t project oddball genius. He’s a skillful bricoleur interweaving the Technicolor, disparate vestiges of rock-n-roll past into an impressive pastiche that’s altogether new. I don’t know where exactly Pop Levi has been hiding—far-off galaxies, wandering among the lost souls of rock’s golden eras—but Return to Form is the mining of a gem, the discovery of a star.
Reviewed by: Jillian Crowther
Reviewed on: 2007-03-26